Numbness and tingling are symptoms that are usually caused by nerve damage or a pinched or compressed nerve. A 1994 study published in “Clinics in Sports Medicine” says that nerve-compression symptoms in bicyclists are typically caused by handlebar problems. More often than not, these symptoms are temporary and can be corrected with proper prevention, managed with adjustments to your bike or medical treatment.
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An estimated 1/3 of overuse injuries on a bike affect the arms, wrists, hands and little fingers. Handlebar palsy and carpal tunnel syndrome are two of the most common overuse injuries associated with biking, according to Hughston Health Alert in Georgia. Handlebar palsy, also called ulnar neuropathy, is a common problem for bikers. It occurs when the ulnar nerve in the hand and wrist is compressed by pressure from leaning on your arms or direct grip on the handlebars. If you have a dropdown handlebar, you could be stretching or hyperextending the nerve. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when a nerve in the wrist is compressed. Symptoms include numbness in the fingers and weakness in the hand.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
The thoracic outlet, which contains nerves and blood vessels, is the opening between the muscles that run from the neck to the rib cage. Thoracic outlet syndrome, or TOS, can cause pain, numbness and tingling in your shoulders, arms or hands. Winchester Hospital Chiropractic Center in Massachusetts says that TOS is caused when you hold your neck or shoulders in an awkward alignment, pressure from neck and shoulder position and by holding your arms out for long periods of time. If you slouch, which can compress nerves and arteries around the thoracic outlet, you may be able to alleviate symptoms by correcting your posture. Also, women with large breasts and people who are overweight tend to droop their shoulders and back, which can affect the thoracic outlet and trigger symptoms.
Numbness in your hands, fingers and arms will not go away unless you make some adjustments either in the setup of your bike or your posture. Sitting in an upright position by raising the handlebars or purchasing a bike with upright handlebars, will shift weight off your arms and can relieve pressure on your nerves. You can also periodically shift the weight on your palms, wear padded biking gloves and pad your handlebars. Riders usually put all of their weight on the inside of the palms or the outside edge of the palms. Redistributing the pressure periodically and wearing gloves that absorb shock from the road can prevent numbness.
If adjusting your handlebars, seat and pedals, wearing gloves and padding your handlebars do not eliminate your symptoms, you should see your doctor. Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to learn about exercises and stretches that take pressure off the affected nerves and also to break up continuous, repetitive activities. You may also need anti-inflammatory medications or wrist splints.